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Fake Obituary Used to Suspend Head of Instagram’s Account

Dina Faisal Dina Faisal
20th November 2021
Fake Obituary Used to Suspend Head of Instagram’s Account

A scammer was able to temporarily disable the Instagram account of the platform's CEO, Adam Mosseri. This is the most recent example of how fake news can be harmful to people. The scammer Syenrai, described how he used the platform's own memorialization feature and a fake obituary to take down Mosseri's account, which had over 1 million followers. The feature allows a person's close relatives to submit a verified request to either memorialize or delete the account. Instagram requires the deceased person's birth certificate, death certificate, and proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person or his/her estate in order to do so. To request that an account be deleted, you must also fill out a form. According to Syenrai, Instagram requested a death certificate, an obituary, or a news article that included the deceased person's full name, so he used a doctored obituary.

Certain functions are disabled after an account is memorialized. No one can log into the account. The word 'Remembering' appears next to the person's name on their profile. No changes are made to existing uploaded media, comments, or settings, and the account no longer appears on the 'explore' page. However, the deceased's posts, including photos and videos, are still visible to their original audience and followers. 

Scammers use Instagram features such as impersonation, protection against self-harm, suicide, and the memorizing feature to target and close accounts for a fee of $60 per account. Unlike Mosseri, who was able to regain access to his account quickly and unverified, regular users may lose access to their accounts if they cannot verify their identity, or it may take weeks to regain access. These scammers, in turn, offer services to return accounts for a fee that can run into thousands of dollars. 

Syenrai appears to have had good intentions when he proposed this tactic, as he adds that he finds it ridiculous that Instagram allows this to happen and that the entire "banning community" needs to be discovered, referring to it as the "dark side of Instagram." According to Instagram, some people abuse the features they provide, necessitating hiring cybersecurity experts and investigators to detect the latest scammer techniques. In this way, they make it difficult to abuse the features and keep scammers at bay.

Nonetheless, despite Instagram's efforts, this is yet another way for people with malicious intent to exploit flaws in online platforms by spreading fake news to harm and profit from users. Perhaps a more stringent process should be imposed, or settings that can be selected. At the same time, the person is still alive to use the memorialization feature on their behalf rather than anyone being allowed to make the request.

Adam Mosseri
Instagram 1
Instagram 2

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